On Saturday May 14th at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, CA, a venue for bikes with a pedigree, iconic motorcycles featured included: the “Bathing Suit Bike” which Rollie Free rocketed to a 150 mph world speed record in 1948, a 1929 Sunbeam Model 90 TT, Steve McQueen’s 1971 Husqvarna Cross, and in the category Custom the latest creation from Falcon Motorcycles.
Founded in 2008 in Los Angeles by industrial designer Ian Barry and his partner Amaryllis Knight, Falcon Motorcycles is specializing in hand made custom motorcycles that are built from scratch around engines of the pre and post world-war II era. The shop is involved in an ambitious project called Falcon’s Concept Ten to build 10 handcrafted one-off motorcycles (1 per year) using 10 different iconic British motorcycle engines like Triumph, BSA, Vincent, etc.
Last year, Falcon Motorcycles introduced The Kestrel featuring an engine from a 1970 Triumph Bonneville, a BSA tray and 10″ of the original Triumph headstock. Last Saturday, Ian launched his third motorcycle of the series named The Black Falcon, a one-year labor of love built from an engine salvaged from a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow with a history in the California racing scene. It was no surprise when on Saturday Amaryllis shared with me that Falcon’s new rolling piece of art just won the Quail Gathering’s “Best Thoroughbred Award”
This one-of-a-kind machine is a true concept motorcycle, so custom that everything on it, except for the engine, carburetors, rims and tires, have been designed, machined and hand made by Barry and his team. The Vincent Black Shadow was for over 25 years after its introduction in 1948 the “World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle”. Around the 1952 engine, Ian designed the entire Black chassis (2 tanks, frame, front forks, brakes, seat, handlebars, fenders, foot & hand controls , etc.) with the intent to improve function, while giving this machine the utmost aesthetic appeal. Look attentively at the pictures. Amazing details are everywhere. 1000’s of hours were required to design, engineer and sculpt all metal parts, all combined to work beautifully together and to create a perfect overall visual sense of balance.
The forks were based on Vincent ‘Girdraulics’ but were redesigned by Barry, and fabricated from 7075 T6 aluminum, their blades lightened and shortened, CNC-machined for precision alignment. He then used needle bearings on all load bearing, surfaces – a vast improvement over the original Girdraulics which were prone to ‘stiction’ and speed wobbles. Once the function was assured, Barry spent the next few days hand carving them. The Black’s oil tank was fabricated from stainless steel and looks like the spinal column of a mythical metal beast. Cooling fins were built to work in unison with hollow guides inside the gas tanks to push air onto the heads and the bronze alloy cylinders that Ian also machined for accuracy, then hand-shaped fin after fin… The oil tank cap has a glass center to allow for easy viewing of oil return. On the original Vincent, the oil cap would have to be taken off every time you started the bike to check for oil return.
The Black Falcon got 2 different gas tanks, the “Roadster tank” and the “Drag tank.” They are hand-hammered aluminum gas tanks formed around carved wooden bucks, and pressed and locked on to specially designed spring loaded pins, vibration-damped by rubber o-rings. These tanks were designed with quick release gas taps so the whole fuel system can be removed in less than half a minute. The street ‘Roadster’ fuel tank can be replaced by the other “Mile Drag Racing” tank that holds only one gallon. It is fitted with a leather “chin” pad for when the rider needs to get down as low as he can for speed runs. In this configuration, the foot pegs and handlebars also adjust to drag racing positions.
Even the brakes were designed by Ian Barry and fabricated in-house. In order to stop the Black from its 140 + mph potential, the front double-sided, four leading shoe brake is more powerful than the original, and uses locomotive cylinders as brake liners. Although the rear and front wheels pay visual tribute to the finned Vincent Black Lightning racing brakes, the Black Falcon brakes have double the original braking power. They are bigger in diameter (8” each), mechanically much stiffer, and, with a wider braking surface area. The shocks inside the front forks and the rear swing arm are bespoke modern gas units. Due to their modern functionality, they offer superior handling plus a far more comfortable ride than on an original Vincent.
Every moving part of the engine has been balanced within one-tenth of a gram. The engine work on the Black is everything one could ever have wanted to push it to functional and aesthetic perfection Result is an engine significantly more powerful than the standard Black Shadow, blueprinted, bulletproofed, tough as nails and lightning fast.
So, after such a new achievement, what to expect from Ian Barry? A new machine to be created around the engine of a 1957 Velocette factory racer, one of seven ever made, or maybe the engine of a Brough Superior. Ian says that he will decide after he has taken a week off to fill his mind with “nature, time, art, movies and music.” New work will start May 23rd, and like on each of his projects Ian & crew will devote a full year to it.
Of course you will be the first to see it here exactly in 1 year. Falcon Motorcycles. (all photography copyright of Falcon Motorcycles and courtesy to Cyril Huze)